Phil Olson

‘We sat down and I asked about the Zazen posture. “You have not yet learned how we put strength in our stomach,” he said. Again he got up from his cushion and came around to show me how to sit correctly in Zazen. First he adjusted my own posture and then he sat down in front of me and demonstrated the Zazen posture and the way of breathing himself. Watching Suzuki Roshi paying such careful attention to his breathing, I no longer saw Zen practice as something strange or separate from my own life.’ (from the Jikoji archives)

When I read this, I was reminded of the opening chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, where Suzuki Roshi says, ‘To gain strength in your posture, press your diaphragm down towards your hara, or lower abdomen. This will help you maintain your physical and mental balance.’ This is not an instruction that I heard when I was at Zen Center, and I wonder if it is one of those things that got lost in the translation of the practice from Japan to the west. When I am offering zazen instruction, I often tell people to treat the hara, the area between the belly button and the pubic bone, as their centre of gravity and centre of energy while they are sitting, and that if they practise martial arts, they will be used to the notion of moving from that strong core.


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